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Sharon Schweitzer: Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide

As we celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Cross Cultural Consultant, Sharon Schweizer, separates the facts from the fiction surrounding this festive occasion.

It's the annual holiday that calls for music, fun and margaritas! As we celebrate Cinco de Mayo Cross Cultural Consultant, Sharon Schweitzer, separates the facts from the fiction surrounding this festive occasion. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @WeAreAustin and find us on Facebook at We Are Austin Lifestyle Show.

Sharon Schweitzer's 8 Cross-Cultural Tips for Observing Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo becomes a more popular holiday in the United States every year, highlighting the strength and bond of Mexican-American culture. The May 5th holiday is extremely popular in Austin, Houston & Dallas, Texas, the state of Florida, and large festivals can be found in Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Illinois and Denver, Colorado. Use our tips to celebrate with cross-cultural awareness and modern manners.

Understand the History: Not a Celebration of Mexican Independence

Before we pour ourselves some sparkling water or exquisite tequila and partake of the festivities, we need to know: What is the historical background of this holiday? A common misconception is that Cinco de Mayo, is a celebration of Mexican Independence. In fact, although this day celebrates an important battle in Mexican history, the 16th of September actually marks Mexican Independence day.

Cinco de Mayo Celebrates a Small Battle against the French at Puebla

The 5th of May commemorates an incredible battle between France and Mexico in 1862. At this time, credit regulations were changing. Mexico owed debt to three European powers, England, France and Spain. All three of these countries invaded Mexico; however England and Spain retreated in 1862. France did not, and 6,000 troops of French soldiers fought a smaller number of Mexican troops. The French army was the most powerful force in the world at that time, with an army doubling the size of the Mexican troops. The United States was about to begin the Civil War and was unable to help their southern neighbor. In what appeared to be an unmatchable fight, the Mexican army surprisingly and impressively defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Nearly 500 French soldiers were killed; however the Mexican troops lost less than 100 men. Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of the victory over France. This battle supported Mexico's resistance against the French, who eventually withdrew from Mexico six years later.

Celebrations in Mexico and the U.S.

The celebration of this holiday is not particularly widespread in Mexico, and is mainly celebrated by the Mexican state of Puebla, where the battle took place. Celebrations in Peñón de los Baños in Mexico City for example, include reenactments of the battle and delicious feasts. Cinco de Mayo has become popular in the southern United States and Mexican communities in the U.S. with celebrations of our neighboring Mexican culture.

Appropriate Decor

Be culturally aware and highlight the true origins of the day. Remember that this holiday commemorates a battle where lives were lost. Use the Mexican flag as inspiration.

Authentic Mexican Beverages

The origins of the holiday didn't originally include alcohol so consider sparkling water, fresh fruit juices, club soda, San Pellegrino, Evian, or Mexican coffee made with hot milk and cinnamon.

To drink tequila as the Mexicans do, follow these 4 steps:

1.Place a pinch of salt on the back of your left hand, in the hollow between your thumb and index finger;

2.Lick the salt;

3.With the right hand, take the glass of tequila and drink it all; and

4.Suck on a piece of lime.

Cuba Libra is also a popular Mexican drink comprised of rum, coke and lime juice.

In the U.S., bartenders now share festive tamarind margaritas, tequila sunrises, or other creative cocktails. Ask a friend or family member to observe guests as they depart, and offer alternative methods of transportation if necessary. Alternating a glass of water with alcohol minimizes the impact of alcohol and keeps guests hydrated.

Traditional Mexican or U.S. Menu Options

When U.S. Americans think of Mexican food, many times they immediately think of tacos. However, the dish that's most common in Mexican celebrations of Cinco de Mayo is mole poblano. Mole is a distinctive sauce made with dried poblano (ancho) peppers, chocolate, spices, and other ingredients that is often served over chicken, cheese, pork, or turkey.

In the U.S. party styles range from potluck, to appetizers, and sit down dinners. With a potluck style, guests may bring traditional family dishes. Appetizer style allows guests to mix and mingle, especially if the spring weather cooperates for a casual, outdoor event with a large number of guests. For a sit down dinner, Tequila Lime Chicken, Flank Steak Tostadas, and more recipes may be found here. Be sure alcohol is served in moderation, and plenty of protein is available to mitigate its effect.

Creative Party Favors

A thoughtful host provides guests with a small party favor. A creative idea is to send guests off with a cold bottle of water with a festive bow for their drive home, which they can pick up from an ice chest on the front veranda as they depart. Another option is traditional Mexican candies, such as mazapán, dried mangos with chili, or Morelianas cookies.

Hostess Gifts to Show Appreciation

As a guest, bringing a small hostess gift is always a good idea. For example, a diffuser, small candle, coffee table book, or book by their favorite author all make wonderful additions to the host's home. Small tokens of guest appreciation help ensure you are invited back for years to come!



Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, which was named to the Best Books of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews.

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